Tradition Meets Creativity with Intercontinental Cask Ale Collaborations
Stone Brewing Co.’s Mitch Steele served as one of the first international participants back in 2008, and his continued collaborations always prove enormously popular. His recent Wetherspoon creation, a Double IPA dry-hopped with Mosaic and Centennial hops, was brewed at Adnams Brewery in scenic Suffolk. Steele saw the beer as a big hit that probably made no money for Wetherspoon because of exaggerated U.K. beer taxes on higher alcohol brews. “It seems as though high ABV ales are sometimes frowned upon in England,” he noted. “In fact, there were even a few Wetherspoon pubs that refused to serve my Double IPA, because of the alcohol content.”
Steele recalls many people in the United Kingdom who still think of American standard lager as the only beer the United States has to offer. “Bringing over high-profile brewers and introducing people in the U.K. to the way we brew has been fun, and we’ve gotten great feedback on our beers. One of the funniest experiences was back in 2008 when we did the first American craft beer for Wetherspoon, and the IPA we brewed was actually the top-rated English beer on RateBeer for a while!”
Fat Head’s Brewery’s Matt Cole recently completed his third brew for Wetherspoon—Rocketman Red—an American-style amber ale that showcased an elegant caramel and toasted malt character balanced by an American hop finish. “I brewed at Wadworth Brewery in Wiltshire,” said Cole. “I loved working in this historic facility and seeing how they’ve integrated the old brewhouse with their modern facility to maintain tradition, yet increase efficiency.”
Jason Oliver, brewer for Devils Backbone Brewing Co. in Virginia, visited Banks’s Beer in Wolverhampton to create Independence Ale. “This was a 4.8% ABV pale ale that would be tapped around the Fourth of July, so I decided to use both U.K. and U.S. hops to symbolize the shared history and special relationship between England and America,” noted Oliver. “I think it’s great for foreign brewers to experience English cask ale, and I always look forward to my first pint of real ale when I arrive in London.”
Along with talented American brewers, Wetherspoon also hosts beer artisans from a variety of other countries. Kelly Ryan, head brewer for Fork & Brewer in Wellington, New Zealand, journeyed last year to the long-established Batemans Brewery in Lincolnshire to showcase aromatic New Zealand hops in his Pacific Pearl Black IPA. Ryan recalls, “I officially brewed the beer that contained the most hops in the history of Batemans! It’s an honor to craft something that comes from your imagination and bring it to fruition on a large scale. The Wetherspoon collaborations make this possible.”
Owen Ogletree is a BJCP National Beer Judge, editor of Brewtopia.info and founder/director of the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting and the Classic City Brew Fest in Athens, GA.